Is Africa Back on Hungary’s Agenda?

BUDAPEST, Hungary, February 28, 2014 (Buziness Africa) — Driven by China’s economic and investment aggressiveness, the post-communist Hungarian republic has over the past few years craved a new opportunity aimed at reshaping and boosting its diplomatic profile and further promising starkly nearly all that, what significant global players have pledged in a number of African countries.

After the democratic transformation in 1989-1990, Hungary practically all-but withdrew from sub-Sahara Africa and focused on its new concerns with European and trans-Atlantic integration. But that policy position has changed during the past few years and especially after the Budapest African Forum held in 2013.

Istvan Tarrosy, assistant professor of political science and director of The Africa Research Center at the University of Pecs in Hungary, told Buziness Africa that Hungary has a new foreign policy doctrine called “Global Opening”, part of which it refocuses, redesigns its engagements and presence in different regions of the world, therefore, in Africa, too.

Hungary certainly needs new markets – just as anybody else, thus its approach may seem to be similar to that of other actors on the global stage, but rather it tries to reestablish, revitalize formerly flourishing connections. Angola used to be an important “friendship” country for Hungary prior to the change of the political system at the end of the 1980s.

For Angola, Hungary used to be a respected partner, offering state scholarships, technical support, expertise and some good quality products. Also, Angola will always respect Laszlo Magyar a very fine Hungarian explorer who lived for 17 years in the country and made important contributions to the study of the geography and the ethnography of equatorial Africa.

Hungary is interested in resources within Angola, for instance and other African countries just China and many foreign countries. Certainly, Africa’s, and Angola’s resources are interesting for Hungary, too. Its state-owned oil company MOL has interests in partnering with Angolan companies, and being present with acquisitions, but as mentioned above, new markets are also attractive for Hungary. Angola also wants to develop economic links with Hungary, ranging from trade to tourism, investments to technical expertise.

This move has become so important because Hungary wants to diversify its foreign engagements and economic partnerships. Hungary intends to attract investors, find new markets, and let Hungarian businesses find their interests outside the European Union (EU), too. In addition, Hungary is a donor EU country with potential aid-development packages, support for African partners.

Kalman Meszaros, an economic and commercial counsellor at the Embassy of Hungary in Pretoria told Buziness Africa that “one of the Hungarian government’s priorities in external relations is geographical diversification as at present Hungary has too high exposure to the European Union (about 70% in trade relations) so it launched three years ago an “Opening to the East” campaign, in the East meaning the faster growing developing world, Africa and Latin-America also included.”

He further explained that “after the transition in the early 90-ies our trade has substantially diminished with Africa (in the 70-ies and 80-ies political ties and special clearing agreements boosted them significantly) and we see it is now time to catch up with the rest of the world, so a special Africa Strategy was worked out to intensify relations with the continent.”

Hungary is interested to expand trade and investment relations with African countries but also beyond. Hungary can contribute to this by offering / investing in medium – high tech technology, products, services, solutions, capacities.

Africa is one of the world’s most perspective regions in the next decade (as is Hungary along with the Visegrad 4 countries – Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia – the most promising sub-region in the EU in the coming years), the main challenge I see in the quality of human resources, so education and training should be a priority throughout the whole continent, Meszaros pointed out.

Professor Francis Wambalaba, an associate deputy chancellor for Academic Research at the United States International University in Nairobi, explained to me that with many global economic problems in the West, and the emergence of China on the global economic scene, along with its growing interest in Africa, many industrialized countries consider Africa a virgin territory full of investment and business potential. Given that level of political stability, the unstable economies of the west, and the rapid penetration of China, Hungary too might be interested in staking out on the continent

He, however, acknowledged that Hungary is interested in resources in Africa, in countries such as Angola, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana just as China and many foreign countries. Wambalaba noted that most foreign powers that have come to Africa are primarily interested in natural resources with very limited interest in using cheap labor for manufacturing sector. But given Hungary’s lack of minerals, and interest in agriculture, the relationship is anticipated to be a natural resource based.

Professor Wambalaba told Buziness Africa from Nairobi that “Africa has been a sleeping giant for a while but the period of hibernation seems to be coming to an end. The strengthening of regional blocs and other intergovernmental efforts are creating large market opportunities to complement the supply side of natural resources and this is going to introduce new economic dynamics that will be very attractive to foreign powers.”

Simon Schaefer, a senior research & strategy analyst at Frontier Advisory (Pty) Ltd based in South Africa told me that the investment and business impact could be limited. “I think there are opportunities for firms from Hungary or the Czech Republic that offer services or products that fill a niche. Given these countries’ relatively strength in engineering and technology, there might be opportunities in these sectors,” he added assertively.

Schaefer explained further that, “by trying to do so, these countries are in direct competition with the much bigger and more powerful Russia, which is trying to use the same relationships to regain influence in Africa. The education route seems interesting, given Hungary and Czech Republic’s relatively high standards of education compared to countries with similar income levels. I think there could be room for these two countries to form partnerships with African states and to develop training programs in Africa.”

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union Commission, has emphasized to foreign players and potential investors to the continent the significance of Africa’s rapid growth, openness of its infrastructure development and natural resources, its young population and its economic growth which is experiencing steady dynamism.

Africa is the continent of the 21st century, and accordingly Hungary places great emphasis on developing relations with African countries, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry’s parliamentary state secretary Zsolt Németh declared early this year during an official visit to Africa.

The Hungarian MFA state secretary visited Ghana, Angola and Namibia on his five-day tour. In Ghana, Zsolt Németh met with Foreign Minister Hannah Tetteh and signed an agreement on cooperation between the two countries’ foreign ministries. In Angola, he held talks with the deputy foreign minister, and in Namibia he had a meeting with President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba and with the Namibian foreign and defence ministers. Zsolt Németh also signed a foreign ministry cooperation agreement there.

Németh stressed that Hungary’s foreign policy, which is aimed at expanding relations and trade globally, also targeted the African continent. The Africa Forum hosted by Budapest last June marked a turning point in Hungary’s foreign policy towards the continent.

The Hungarian state secretary said that economic cooperation agreements were being elaborated with these three countries. Agriculture and water management could become major areas for cooperation, Zsolt Németh emphasized. Energy cooperation with Ghana and Angola could also become important, he added. As for cooperation in education, he noted that Hungary had offered higher education grants to these three countries under its Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship scheme.

According to latest information obtained by Buziness Africa, Hungarian companies wanted to involve in mining, refinery, village electrification, water management and agricultural development projects in Nigeria after it reopened its diplomatic mission this year in Abuja. A Hungarian enterprise has won a software development tender covering 15 African countries, while another company will supply the equipment and software for producing Sudan’s new personal identity cards.

Hungary wants to bolster its cooperation with Africa and is anxious to assist African countries in tackling their challenges. In his speech at the Africa Forum, Foreign Minister János Martonyi, prioritized promoting deep-seated cooperation between Africa and Hungary, underlined that Africa has become a successful continent, something which should be celebrated throughout the world, and to contribute to ensuring security, peace and stability in addition to taking advantage of the rise of the African continent.

*Professor Istvan Tarrosy is also a co-author of this report: (an academic paper on Hungarian-African relations (one of the first such comprehensive studies!) published in the journal African Studies Quarterly:

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